We had the good fortune of connecting with Derek Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Derek, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I approached the idea of starting Ann’s Creole Candies with a lot of skepticism and trepidation. Praline candy making is a very finicky and time-consuming process that requires your undivided attention. As well, I didn’t realize how special our candy was because I grew up so close to it. I watched my mom, Ann, make her New Orleans praline candy as gifts for the holidays and it was also a favorite request for parties, but I didn’t realize just how much people loved it until I learned to make it myself.
My wife Channing and her family are Angelenos who first tried my pralines years ago. Soon after, the candy began to be requested for holiday parties and my wife’s friends began to enjoy them too. I was constantly being told that I should sell them but still had my doubts. My biggest concern was whether I could supply the demand. I currently make them one batch at a time, the same way my grandmother and my ancestors made them over 100 years ago. It’s certainly not very efficient at all and the growing demand has led me to begin considering methods of scaling operations.
More importantly, Ann’s Creole Candies had to be a model that raised the bar for what consumers should expect from the businesses they patronize. For me, that meant that we needed to be firmly planted in the community of South Central L.A. We donate $1 for each Instagram follower we receive and an additional 5% of our sales to three local non-profits doing vital work in building this community. As a family, our kids included, we volunteer our free time with these same organizations. I refused to be a business that solely took from this community and firmly believe that all businesses can be profitable and philanthropic in the neighborhoods they operate, if it’s important to them.
What should our readers know about your business?
Prior to moving to California, I would visit my girlfriend (now wife) Channing in L.A. I remember being surprised at how many restaurants focused on New Orleans Cuisine. Being born and raised in New Orleans, I guess I didn’t realize just how much of an impact our food had on the world and was also unaware of how many Angelenos have roots in Louisiana.
I think what sets us apart from others is our willingness to zig while others zag. In the social media age, the ability to go viral can take a new business to huge heights almost instantly. This leads many businesses to hop on the latest trend or challenge in hopes of riding the wave. I’m patient and not at all concerned with overnight success as I have plenty of growing pains I need to experience first.
We are still a very new business and nothing about this is easy. Until a business can grow, the owner has to wear all of the hats. I don’t always love making the pralines, but I like the creativity that comes with the marketing and the interaction with our customers. I dread the packaging of orders but I enjoy the personal notes that I get to leave for the customers. The pros are directly tied to the cons and until we can scale operations, I accept this.
I’ve always been very observant and I tend to overthink everything. My mind needs a contingency for the chance that Plan A or B does’t work, otherwise I get anxious. This has allowed me to see some of my challenges before they present themselves. I also am content in knowing that I don’t know all the answers and regularly consult with other small business owners to see how they have overcome the challenges I’m facing. I’m fortunate that my wife is an attorney and is always there to give me the legal advice that I need but don’t necessarily want to hear.
The environment and human impact on it is very important to us. I spend my summers knee deep on our beaches fishing in the surf and hate to see just how much plastic washes up on the shores. Before starting this business, I looked into eco-friendly packaging options because I would not have launched unless there was an alternative to plastic. Our pralines are placed in compostable pouches made of rice paper to limit our contribution to polluting the earth.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I am all in for anything outdoors and one of my favorite things to do is renting bikes in Venice and riding along the coast to Santa Monica. My wife and I have been doing this long before we were married with kids and it still makes me happy. I have always loved basketball and watching the Nike Drew League games at King/Drew Magnet High School. The competition is intense and you never know which NBA elite athlete will suit up and play. LA has some really good hiking trails, other than Runyon Canyon, that have spectacular views of the coast.
I’m not a foodie, but for those that are, L.A. has so many options due to the diverse cultures of people who reside here. My wife and I love 1010 Wine and Events in Inglewood. It’s right in our backyard, the food and service is top notch, and they really have taken the time to ensure that you get a great experience. Smorgasburg is also a must stop as there are so many really good options. I’ve only been once but still dreaming about the Porkstrami sandwich served by The Bad Jew.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
This business wouldn’t exist without the love and patience of my mother Ann who taught me the history along with the tradition behind The Morney Family’s pecan candy. My wife Channing saw the possibilities of this business years before I ever did, yet still has to encourage me through my own skepticism. My family, friends, customers, and anyone else who has purchased from us, considered us, referred us, or simply reposted our social media content has allowed us to grow one follower at a time. Thank you all!
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